Sorrows and Deep Sighs

The world is bona fide mess.

Our president has tacitly threatened nuclear war on the one other country in the world with a leader stupid enough to retaliate. The institution of police have openly embraced their role as blue terrorists in our communities. A series of catastrophic hurricanes is steadily destroying lives and nations in the Caribbean. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are struggling to survive.

My tiny, insignificant corner of personal misery isn’t much by comparison, but it’s everything when my own mind is no refuge from the wretchedness. The only solution I can think of is to put my misery to bed.

The end of my marriage came without my consent, or input of any kind, really. My husband simply left – emotionally and verbally if not physically. No matter how I begged for communication, he simply stopped talking or acknowledging my role as his spouse in any way. All of my anger, all my despair, centered… no, centers, to be fair, around the loss of my agency. To this day, I seethe with frustration over never being able to confront our problems head on.

But that was his entire goal.

If he never accused me of failing him, then I couldn’t accuse him back. He wanted a do-over without consequences. Because to him, ignoring our 12 years together means they didn’t happen the way they really happened, and without my input to contradict, he can remember them any way he likes. My real failings become imagined in whatever way suits his narrative. My real quirks become monstrous or nonexistent as fits the story he wants to tell himself (and the next woman). My heartache, too.

While I have real regrets and real sorrow and real hurt, my worst pain comes from my erasure. There is nothing I can do to make myself relevant in his life again, for good or ill. I’ve long since let go of my love for him, but becoming invisible to the single person I trusted with every corner of my soul? That’s a betrayal I might never recover from. No matter what indictments I can throw his way (and there are plenty), the crux of my misery rests on the helplessness of being invisible.

And that’s on me. Because I knew he didn’t really see me. I knew it, and I chose to make excuses for it. When he insisted on portraying me in ways that were inconsistent with my perception of our relationship, I objected – in the beginning. But when those objections were met with “I’m just teasing”, I backed off. Because I didn’t want to perceive my role as humorless. I wish I had. I wish I had been perceived as humorless instead of whatever was in head. At least then there would have been a modicum of truth to it.

Instead, I dove into the dark spaces between what I knew was real and what he would acknowledge. There was peace in not having to talk, and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I was tired. I’d spent my entire life navigating emotions for people too damaged to do it on their own and I was just fucking tired. What he offered was freedom from that, and I accepted.

And that’s on me, too. I was tired, I was lonely, and I made a fatal mistake out of weakness.

It’s happened to better people than me, but strangely that doesn’t bring me much comfort.

My misery may be tiny and insignificant in the context of the world, but it’s also tiny and insignificant to the other person who might have shared it. I am a myth to the only other person in the world I wanted to be completely real with. I let go of him a long time ago, but it’s time to let go of the frustration surrounding my erasure. I will have to come to terms with the truth of my failings on my own, and maybe that’s as it should be. There was a saying in my house growing up – You’re the only one you have to look at in the mirror.

I’m the only one staring back. That’s enough.

Advertisements

Help is a Four Letter Word

It was almost a year ago that I shared a funny story with my therapist. I was trying to illustrate the inherent stubbornness of my nature. (Some would say willful obstinance and that’s certainly their prerogative. Ahem.) It’s a story from my childhood that I’ve shared and laughed at for over 30 years.

When I was eight, we moved neighborhoods but not school districts and it was the day for me to walk home by myself for the first time. Unfortunately for me, it was also “clean out your desk” day and back then they gave you a cheap garbage bag and a thumbs up while you stuffed 40 years worth of paper worksheets into 3 cents worth of perforated plastic bag. I set off confidently enough, but got turned around fairly quickly until I was well and truly lost. I wandered for a long time. Crying, trailing snot and a torn bag behind me, strewing old papers in a pathetic wake along suburban residential streets, I wandered in what was most likely circles, and given the length of my legs at that age not even big ones. It felt like hours and hours to my little girl mind, though in reality it probably wasn’t more than one hour, at most. But I was scared and worried and I kept on walking.

That’s the salient point in the story, as I’ve always told it. I kept walking. I didn’t knock on any doors to ask for help. I definitely didn’t sit down and wait for someone to find me. Oh no – I stubbornly snorted back my snot and kept going! Because even at eight years old I was an obstinate, willful thing! Ha ha, isn’t that funny?!

My therapist chuckled a little with me, but asked, all guileless and with genuine curiosity, “What would have happened if you had just sat down?”

And my brain’s gears came to a screeching halt while I stared at her, dumbfounded. No one had ever asked me that in 30 years and it definitely wasn’t part of my story. This is supposed to be the part where we all laugh at what a perversely dogged child I was, so I just looked blank while my brain struggled to change direction. Then my emotions caught up before my head did and I was choking on a flood of tears while I struggled to get the words past my closed throat. “I’d still be sitting there.”

It ate up 15 minutes of my therapy hour before I could breathe again. Before I could face the fact that at eight years old, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one was coming to save me. I knew that if I wanted to get home, it was up to me.

As it happens, my stepfather was out looking for me, and we eventually ran into each other and he took me home in our family car. But while I was relieved to be going home, I was also nervous about getting in trouble for getting lost in the first place. Because that’s my family’s legacy – self-sufficiency to the point of an eight year old fearing punishment over getting lost.

This was a family who loved me. My parents (and extended to aunts, uncles and grandparents, such as they were) loved me and wanted me to be happy. They absolutely wanted my safety and happiness above all else. But the execution was poor. They were lacking in tools, they had wrong information, and to a certain extent were just too fucking selfish to do the job of making me feel secure and protected. I honestly felt, at eight years old, that was my job.

I’m still unpacking the pain that one not-so-innocent question revealed in me, not least because those same people are still failing me.

I kept on feeling that way – through adolescence, teenage years, and well into the time when another human’s safety and happiness depended on me, I felt that I could only count on myself and had only myself to blame when it all went to shit. No one was coming to save me. Ever. I inherited my family’s selfishness completely. My world was entirely my own, only my own actions mattered, and all the blame belonged to me.

That’s a difficult life to lead. It’s even harder when you add in a confused, lonely man who thought he wanted to “rescue” me but really just wanted me to apply my control-freak ways to his life, too. Still trying to portion out the blame appropriately for that one.

I lived my entire life not understanding that there is supposed to be a certain amount of help and support when you ask for it. Is it any wonder I chose someone so spectacularly bad at giving it when I finally let myself ask? I still struggle with the concept! For children, it’s supposed to be unconditional. I missed the children’s boat. I know adults who are still trying to catch it and it makes me sad and a little impatient for them. That’s their journey and I try to remember it’s not helpful for me to judge it.

But it turns out there’s a boat for adults. There’s a life raft when you need it, a cruise liner, sometimes a private yacht. There are people who know how to say the right thing at the right time, whether it’s encouragement or a reality check or nothing at all. Sadly, I didn’t marry any of them. But today, I asked for help and a lot of people jumped in to offer it. They can’t go back for the lost eight year old with the torn bag of school papers, but they are here for me now.

I don’t subscribe to the “everything happens for a reason” bullshit line of reasoning. But I do think that our minds are built to make order in chaos, and to jigsaw the randomness of life and the universe into some sort of cohesive meaning. So I don’t think that my husband needed to be a lying coward who would rather burn our lives to the ground than admit he made a mistake, but since he was, I’ve been given the opportunity to learn about what constitutes help, when I deserve it, and who to ask for it. And that’s not a bad lesson to take.

Updates for Real Life

It occurs to me that my friends and family don’t really understand where my life is at right now. Even though I’m fairly regular about posting to facebook, I understand not everyone is as glued to that medium and might miss out on some pertinent details. This post is meant to rectify that, so if you don’t know me in real life, it won’t mean that much to you.

Ro and I (and all three dogs) have been moved in to a 900 sq. ft. duplex since mid-May. It’s tiny as hell, but allows all three of my dogs and is in a conveniently-situated part of town. It’s also affordable. These three items generally outweigh the numerous inconveniences, which I don’t want to complain about because my landlady is a good friend and went out of her way to make this place as accommodating as she could. I’m immensely grateful, and will learn to live with the things that are difficult.

I’m in college full time now. 10 credit hours over the summer, and 14 in the fall. It is utterly exhausting. My brain just hurts all the time now and every second I’m not studying or walking my dogs, I’m sleeping. This will get worse when I get accepted into the Physical Therapy Assistant program which starts in January. There wasn’t any other way to work out my school schedule – the “luck” of my ex-husband’s choices put me in a precarious position and I had to just do the best I could. That means working hard, which I’m no stranger to, but it’s a lot different at 41 than it was at 21.

Speaking of exes, I expect my divorce to be finalized within the next week or so. It was a drawn out, expensive process with a few arguments, but ultimately I got what I asked for, which was a temporary, modest living stipend until I finish school. I also kept my car and my IRA, and the dogs.

Which brings me to my next point: modest living. I’m back in a financial position I haven’t seen in over 14 years, which is scary-poor. Not nearly-homeless poor, thank goodness, but that is only because my daughter is gainfully employed and can pay the rent and utilities. But because I had to pay for some of my school out of pocket, which ate up the last of my savings, I’m now in “Oh Zeus please don’t let anything bad happen to me, my dogs, or my car or I am up shit creek” poor. I am uninsured, medically, and I don’t qualify for state aid by virtue of living in the state of Missouri (yay red state conservatism that doesn’t give a fuck if you die!). Every cent I have goes toward living expenses, which even shared are not negligible, and I’m literally holding my breath that nothing unexpected happens. Which is usually a strong indicator that it will.

I have no time, no money, and generally no patience. I am stressed out most of the time, living on a razor’s edge of catastrophe, but at least I’m too tired to freak out about it very often.

Somebody recently said how proud they were that I was “living my dream”. They meant pursuing my education, and I’m grateful for the sentiment in that respect, but this was most definitely not my dream. My dream went up in flames with my marriage and I haven’t had the energy or optimism to form a new one. I’m living my survival right now, and that’s all.

If you know me in real life, please don’t tease me about any of the above. My sense of humor has taken a scarily long hike and anything that resembles “blue skying” from you is going to be interpreted as willful ignorance about the reality of my situation. If you literally have no idea (and if you haven’t seen me face to face in the last 4 months, you don’t), kindly keep your “advice”, “cheering up”, or any other form of platitudes to yourself.

I’m in survival mode, and that leaves nothing left over at the end of the day for nonsense.

Joys of Snack Size

A year ago, I wrote about the Dissolution of Snacks and its somewhat surprising mark on my journey through grief and the loss of my marriage. Today I want to talk about the joys of snack size.

I moved, you see. Downsized from 2400 square feet to 900 square feet, with all the attendant miniaturization of appliances one would expect. My plates don’t fit in the surprisingly tiny cupboards so the door never completely closes. It’s annoying. Peek-a-boo, I see you snarky little reminder of a once bigger life. I keep giving it side eye, like the cupboard is suddenly going to feel shame and quietly swallow the back of my plates so the door can shut completely. (If that happens, the nature of this blog is going to change drastically.)

The refrigerator is tiny. I can see the top without standing on tip-toe and it lacks a meat drawer. I thought I’d feel bad about that, because I’ve spent so long filling up a family-sized fridge that even after the family was downsized, I was still trying to fill it up. Like the refrigerator itself was making my shopping list based on its capacity. But here’s the thing – I don’t feel bad at all. Right now apartment-fridge holds a bag of pre-chopped salad, a 6 pack of flavored water, a bottle of wine and the smallest size sour cream you can buy. I honestly didn’t know they made sour cream containers that small. It’s adorable. It’s me-sized. It won’t get gobbled up by my housemate because somehow I raised a person who doesn’t care for sour cream. It is mine all mine. This is notable because two years ago I would open up the fridge to use a spoonful of sour cream out of the GIANT ASS TUB I bought three days prior only to find it gone, sacrificed to the lunch nachos my ex-husband was so fond of. I would buy industrial sized vats of sour cream and there would NEVER BE ANY when I wanted some.

Today, I had sour cream. A small amount, out of a tiny cup that I bought four days ago and that nobody has touched in the interim. I felt like the star of a commercial that plays during Gray’s Anatomy – some ideal of a single adult woman who delicately spoons out a condiment and never once wonders where it could disappear to if she’s not guarding it.

Likewise I find myself hanging pictures in my bedroom without regard for how they’ll be accepted by my bedmate – a sixty pound mutt of dubious artistic taste and even less preference. Pens go where they are most convenient for me, as do batteries and wash cloths. A brief survey of the other members of this household revealed that they don’t particularly care where I put my shoes, so long as three of them can stick their snouts in the really stinky ones and the fourth need not trip over them. I share my closet with no living thing, and even better, no ghosts.

After years of anxiously verifying my choices with another person (especially when that person had opinions but only reticently shared them – preferring the more quixotic option of silent resentment when I couldn’t read minds), the peacefulness of feathering my own nest can’t be overstated. The delight in single serving anything will never be taken for granted by me again. It’s mine all mine, and ghosts don’t eat sour cream.

Drinking Beers and Smashing Bottles

Where does one draw the line between reasonable conversation and the end of compromise?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently ended contact with some people who’d been in my life a long time because I had reached the end of compromise on certain issues. But then I turned around on social media and advocated for diplomatic solutions to diametrically opposed political and social stances. How do these thoughts coexist? Can they?

My answer is yes, but with caveats that require unpacking privilege and identifying context.

In defense of bad advertisements

Social beverages, like soft drinks and beers, have recently decided to enter into the public conversation of social discourse, with mixed results. Pepsi and Heineken have both received a lot of free publicity by both enraging and encouraging the consuming public with recent advertisements. Pepsi with a cringe-worthy, tone-deaf, white-washed ad of stunning incompetence meant solely to cash in on the lives of victims. It was universally regarded as awful. Heineken followed suit with an ad that ostensibly posed the question about whether or not people with diametrically opposed political views could enjoy a beer and talk about their differences. While met with different responses, it has been (rightfully, in my view, but more on that later) criticized for also being tone deaf and irresponsible towards victims.

Full disclosure: I liked the Heineken advert. It spoke to that place within me that yearns for diplomatic responses to seemingly insurmountable differences and wishes very much I could be the kind of person who engages people in reasonable conversation and (if I’m being honest) emerges the hero by changing minds with my wit and charm and ability to connect with other humans.

It’s important to note, however, that I’m not particularly victimized by opposition to my ideological stances. I’m a white, middle-aged, straight, (nearly) middle-class, able-bodied, (mostly) neurotypical, English speaking, American cisgender woman. I mentioned in my original analysis on the commercial that people who are victimized or even marginalized by their social/economic/biological position are under no obligations to respond diplomatically to their oppressors. I believe that strongly. As a woman who has been silenced most of her life by patriarchal views on my “place” in society, I am in favor lashing out when backed into a corner.

On wielding a sword 

In my personal life, I recently reached the end of my rope trying to deal with relatives who hold opposing ideological views and insist that we share reasonable and “respectful” conversations about it. I’d had about as many quiet, diplomatic conversations as I could have with someone who used those conversations as a tool to further their agenda without actually listening to mine. Who brow-beat me with the idea of “respect” where respect meant I couldn’t express my anger or hurt or disappointment that they would espouse – and more importantly vote – for policies that actively threatened my loved ones.

So I got angry. I yelled (or at least used the caps-lock equivalent), I stopped validating their perspective, and I definitely stopped sandwiching my criticism between affirmations and compromise. I pulled out my firebrand persona and let loose with the sort of vitriol that I felt was absolutely called for when facing viewpoints that maintained a status quo of oppression and bigotry. In the end, they offered to never communicate with me again, and I gratefully accepted. I was and am convinced of both the rightness and appropriateness of my response. A response that is about as far from discussing our problems over a friendly beer as one can get.

The cognitive dissonance dance

The most conspicuous criticism I’ve seen against the Heineken ad was that the premise gave equal credence to unequal premises. In other words, the sort of false neutrality that the alt-right is famous for advocating, and, not coincidentally, why I recently cut off family members.

So, why did I advocate for representation of a diplomatic response? And a clumsy, ill equipped one, at that? Context, for one answer, and privilege, for another:

I’m not disadvantaged in the way that so many of my friends and family are. I’m not going to be immediately, physically threatened by the presence of an anti-trans bigot, or a climate change denier. Given my numerous other privileges, I’m not even particularly threatened by an anti-feminist blow hard. When I superimpose myself onto those positions by giving in to the manipulations of a 3 minute advertisement, it creates a context that makes it easier to imagine being able to talk about it.  It lightens my burden of self-examination and transports me to setting where real danger isn’t happening to real people.

The problem, of course, is obvious. And while the commercial may have been targeting people like me, it was speaking for people who are regularly victimized by their ideological opponents. The result was a statement on the irrelevancy of those victims, and it stung those who recognized it right away. It should have done the same for me. As a friend put it, a company with the economic resources of a multinational beer distributor had the ability to not make that statement (intentional or not) and should have done better. The fact that so many people find themselves analyzing the content (and, I dearly hope, their response to it) should be a strong indicator that if a company with that sort of reach wants to weigh in on social issues, it had better get it right the first time. The idea isn’t enough. The execution matters. Context matters. Privilege matters.

Speaking for myself only, I am privileged to be in a position where I can talk to dissenting people with a reasonable expectation of safety. A better context for Heineken’s intention would have been to put someone like me in a room with the anti-trans person and let us drink and talk. Those are ideological differences. An actual transperson or feminist woman of color is not going to feel safe in real life sitting across from someone who denies their right to exist and who is also diminishing their inhibitions with alcohol. (That part was weird to me from the start.)

I vehemently disagree with the assertion I’ve seen circulated that it’s “stupid” to like the Heineken ad. It’s not stupid to advocate for diplomatic solutions to ideological differences. It’s how politics work, it’s how we manage to not murder our neighbors, and how we keep from becoming totalitarian societies. Taking the ad at face value, however, is imperceptive at best, as I hope I’ve demonstrated here. Diplomacy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Criticizing Heineken’s failure to acknowledge the real dangers inherent in some of our differences is appropriate and necessary, as is identifying the dangers of promoting solutions that begin on false equivalency. But since progressive liberals don’t seem poised to unleash a violent revolution, a framework for discussing tenable, peaceful solutions to resolving those differences also seems appropriate and necessary. At the very least, Heineken’s wishful thinking advertisement pointed out that the lack of such leaves a void many of us would like to see filled.

 

 

Things That I’m Over

An abbreviated list:

The idea that selfies are narcissistic, especially for women. Firstly, so what if they are? Like the mental masturbation that you do to feel superior isn’t? Secondly, no they aren’t. Women putting themselves front and center with their own agenda is simply weird because they’ve never been allowed to do it before. Welcome to the future. It has filters.

Purity progressives. Fuck those guys. Guess what? We’re nowhere near a revolution, guys. And policy making equals compromise since the founding fathers. Who were no saints, by the way, but it WAS their lives on line at the time. It’s so great that you can pontificate from metropolitan cities where your wi-fi is fast, your food is slow, and your activism is a giant circle jerk with other pasty white people who try on “bi-curious” for size. How’s the air up there? Some people do real work. You might want to try it some time.

Getting older. I pulled a muscle in my sleep the other night. How the fuck does that happen??

“Devil’s Advocates”. Shut up. Just shut up. The devil is his own best advocate, okay? He gets around making his argument JUST FINE all on his own. It’s called life. You’re not an advocate, you’re a stinky troll. Go back under your rock.

People who don’t understand privilege. Really? C’mon, it’s part of the vernacular now and if you still don’t get it, it’s because you don’t want to get it. Privilege does NOT equal wealth or fame. Privilege DOES equal certain unearned “free passes” from daily struggles not shared by everyone. Privilege does NOT mean you’ve never had it rough. Privilege DOES mean that you could’ve had it rougher. Privilege does not mean you can’t vent, privilege does mean you might not want to vent about Starbucks being out of your favorite flavor to a single working mom drinking yesterday’s Folgers. Use some sense. Then use your privilege to speak up for those who don’t share it.

Women’s clothing industry sizing. SERIOUSLY GET IT TOGETHER GUYS!! MY WAIST HAS A MEASUREMENT AND SO DOES MY INSEAM. YOUR “12” IS BULLSHIT AND SO IS YOUR METHOD FOR SEWING ON BUTTONS.

Commercials. I’ve lived so long without network television that I forget how offensive they can be. And then Pepsi invades my internet news feed.

Divorce. FML, I really, really want to be over this. Hurry up already.

Selling things on Facebook. Nope. People are entitled, pushy assholes. Over it.

Living in “rural America”. Where the church folk are terrorists and anti-intellectualism reigns supreme. Look, hillbillies and rednecks, I’m sorry you are constantly picked on and made fun of by “liberal elites”. MAYBE STOP GIVING THEM SO MUCH MATERIAL TO WORK WITH, MMMMKAY?

Listicles. These things suck, don’t they??

Fuck this.

Jesus fucking christ when is this going to be over. For a year I’ve been waiting for the right time to move on. Trying to do what is best for everyone, trying to hold on to the things that matter. My marriage has been dead for a long while now, and we’re just now starting the process of burying it. Life, man. It was full of complications. Helpless things I made promises to, plans that look right in any equation.

They are right, you know. Let the child finish school, pick the program that has the likeliest outcome of success, move and file and do all the things according to the right schedule. I checked all the boxes. I made the right decisions.

And now, here I am, in the midst of plans that were made a long time ago, and my body refuses to move forward. I can’t breathe. I weight two tons. There is an ocean of pressure in my ears and every cell struggles through its function. Fuuuuuuck me. It’s not even the loss of the husband. That blew away in ashes months and months ago. It’s all this STUFF. Papers, boxes, printers, dishes – all this stuff has to be packed and organized and sold and I am just. So. Very. Fucking. Tired.

Tomorrow I have to get the oil changed in my car and take a test in anatomy and I want to cry. The idea of maintaining an upright, hominid position makes me want to sob, except that would take energy I just don’t have. My ears are constantly ringing, my chest is constantly tight, my legs feel like articulated lead bricks.

This was supposed to be MY time. Finally, my time for moving forward, for cleansing, for changing and reclaiming. And all I want to do is crawl in a hole until its over. How the hell did I do this when I was in my 20s and chasing better ideas over state lines and jobs and all of that nonsense?? Where is THAT person? I need her to go through my filing cabinet. I need her to google how to start a fire in a burn barrel. I need her to do the dishes. And pack them. And take the dogs for a walk. And cry, because I’m too tired for any of that. I can’t breathe. I literally can’t take those deep, calming breaths everyone is always saying work the best. My lungs are full of cement.

Did that 20 something whine this much? Or is that a “fun” thing about my 40s, too? How early is too early to go to bed?